It’s been a long time since a Godzilla movie was released in the United States theatrically…the last being Godzilla 2000 in…yep, you guessed it, the year 2000. Although Toho Studios made five more Godzilla movies, none of them were released officially in U.S. theaters (I did manage to see the last one, Final Wars, at a local repertory theater, the magnificent Brattle), probably because Godzilla 2000 made just $10 million here. Just two years earlier, the absolutely abysmal American made (and, bear in mind, Godzilla 2000 was no great shakes either) Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich stink bomb Godzilla somehow took $136 million in the U.S. and $379 million worldwide. It is rare that a film can be so critically reviled and so hated by fans that no sequels are made despite a box office haul that big. We were spared two planned sequels, though Devlin and Emmerich still pollute our culture with regular releases of terrible disaster films.
16 years later and America is once again setting up to interpret Godzilla. America loves blockbusters; America loves spectacle and special effects; America loves to see destruction on its screens. The lure of a character that spawned 3 series of films…and in many ways, the entire genre of the Kaiju film…is obvious, but there’s something a little weird about the idea of an American Godzilla movie. Godzilla is, after all, the personification of the nuclear weapons Americans dropped on Japan (and later Bikini atoll, more directly inspiring the first film, Gojira).
This time the director is Gareth Edwards, whose Monsters won accolades for its visual inventiveness on a vet low budget and putting a very political spin on the giant monster movie. I didn’t love Monsters (the human story didn’t work for me and the political content was a little too “BRO DON’T YOU GET IT” for my taste), but then I am a bastard. There is a lot to admire about the job Edwards did on a tiny budget, and to really update the horror and drama of the original Gojira, a new Godzilla movie needs a filmmaker ready to get political. Of course last time around the job Devlin and Emmerich pulled off the destroying the United States in Independence Day was exactly the kind of effects work needed to update Godzilla. Instead, the pair delivered an odd remake of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (the success of which was itself one of the inspirations for Gojira) in which the monster does almost none of the damage to the city and most of the running time consists of Ferris Bueller and The Professional running around New York looking for a giant monster’s nest so they can rip off Jurrasic Park‘s raptor scenes together. Gareth sounds like a good fit, but you never know what he will chose to do. One of the writers worked on Doom and Yoshimitsu Banno (who wrote and directed Godzilla vs. Hedorah and was banned from further input in the series by legendary Toho producer Tomoyuki “Tiger” Tanaka) is listed as an Executive Producer. We’ll see this Friday, May 16th, when the film is released…but the trailers and advanced word of mouth are leaving me hopeful indeed.
I’ve been a Godzilla fan as far back as I can remember, which includes very dim memories of seeing Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster, Godzilla vs. Gigan, Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster, King Kong vs. Godzilla and Destroy All Monsters on The Creature Double Feature with my brother and sister. My brother owned a glow in the dark Aurora Godzilla model that sat on his dresser in the room we shared and our friends owned the Shogun Warriors Godzilla and Rodan. After my parents bought a VCR, I tracked down all the Godzilla films I could-aided and abetted by the Crestwood “Orange and Black” monster book series I checked out from my school and local library. These sources told me about all the extant Godzilla movies (when the most recently made was Terror of Mechagodzilla, the last directed by original director Ishiro Honda) and I was able to track many of them down. Our local video store carried a few, and there were the monster movie marathons (one on The Movie Channel hosted by the Medveds was particularly fruitful) and the occasional late night or afternoon broadcast to be taped. When professionally made tapes dropped in price I started picking up tapes here and there, though it took me until college to see all the films in the first series of Godzilla movies (generally known as the Showa series).
In the meantime Godzilla movies were being made in Japan once again, starting in 1984 with Gojira (re-titled Godzilla 1985: The Legend is Reborn here in the States and accompanied by ludicrous Dr. Pepper commericals). When my mother me to see it, I don’t think I noticed the insane product placement or how cheesy the added scenes shot for an American audience were; I was just excited that Godzilla was back and more dangerous than ever, including an attack by a giant sea louse that completed freaked me out. In Japan the film was successful enough to spawn a whole new series (the Heisei series) of Godzilla movies. For years the only hints they existed were clips on things like Entertainment Tonight, but the films weren’t released here because, you guessed it, Godzilla 1985‘s poor box office. It wasn’t until college when I started finding bootleg copies of both the original Showa series-uncut, with subtitles-and the new series. I was very excited in 1998 and 2000 when we went to see Godzilla films in a theater, a rare treat, and I share that enthusiasm for this latest film.
To that end-and to get YOU excited for the first release of a Godzilla movie to U.S. theaters in 14 years-we’ll be spending the week with some of my old favorites. All Godzilla movies all week! To get you started here are some of the ones we’ve featured in the four years we’ve done Movies of the Day: